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Cubans Give Up, Release Hostages : Prisoners in Atlanta Sign Accord Affecting 3,800 Detainees in U.S.

December 04, 1987|DAVID TREADWELL and RON HARRIS | Times Staff Writers

ATLANTA — Cuban inmates signed an agreement with the federal government early today and freed their 89 hostages, bringing a peaceful end to the 11-day takeover of the Atlanta federal prison.

The eight-point agreement, signed just after 1 a.m., provides a moratorium on deportation of the estimated 3,800 Cuban detainees nationwide, officials said. Among other things, it also provides for no reprisals against inmates for damage to the prison and for individual reviews by next June of their eligibility to remain in the United States.

Auxiliary Bishop Agustin A. Roman of the Miami archdiocese, a 59-year-old Cuban-born prelate, was one of the first people to sign the agreement. He flew to Atlanta late Thursday and was then flown into the prison by government helicopter.

Others at Signing

Two leaders of Cuban refugee advocacy groups in Atlanta, Carla Dudek and Gary Leshaw, were present at the signing.

Applause broke out in the chamber near the prison kitchen when the final signature went on the document. The participants then shook hands and hugged.

Immediately after the signing, the inmates sang the Cuban national anthem and began releasing the hostages. The captives walked down a line of tactical officers where many hugged members of their families before being taken away in vans.

Officials said the hostages, who all appeared to be in good health, would be given medical exams before being released to rejoin their families.

Cheers erupted from family members as the captives filed out of the prison.

"I could walk on air," said Carol Dixon, whose husband, Gene, was a hostage.

After all the hostages were released, Roman addressed the inmates, praising them for putting an end to their prison revolt and freeing the hostages. He then led the group in prayer.

Authorities said the inmates are expected to be transferred soon to about 15 other correctional facilities around the country.

The inmates reportedly had wanted the formal signing to be witnessed by seven outside persons, including the bishop, who played a key role in ending a similar eight-day siege at the federal detention center in Oakdale, La.

Both the Oakdale rebellion, which began on the night of Nov. 21, and the Atlanta uprising, which began two days later, were sparked by news of an agreement between the United States and Cuba to deport some of the detainees to their native country.

Inmates Call Officials

Earlier Thursday, Patrick Korten, a Justice Department official, said inmate leaders had called federal officials at about 4 p.m. to announce that the pact had been approved by a majority of the detainees.

The mutinous detainees voted on the two-page pact about 2 1/2 hours after it had been approved in Washington by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and tentatively agreed to at the prison by six inmate leaders.

According to a message broadcast by inmates from a loudspeaker atop the prison hospital annex, the vote was taken after about two hours of debate in the prison chapel by the 1,105 Cuban detainees at the prison.

Korten said federal officials were informed that the vote was not unanimous, but that the inmate leaders would enforce the majority will on the others.

Another Justice Department spokesman, Thomas Stewart, said federal officials had recommended that the accord be signed in the part of the prison where the negotiations had taken place.

News of the outcome of the vote on the pact came first from inmates on the hospital annex roof. They cheered and shouted, and blew kisses to their wives and loved ones standing across the street from the prison.

Then they stood stiffly at attention as the Cuban national anthem was played over the loudspeaker.

Wives of the hostages, who have kept a constant vigil across the street, were elated by the news.

"I'm floating on a cloud right now," said Martha Heredia of Laredo, Tex., who wore a blue parka pulled tight against the chilly evening wind. "I was getting ready to go home because I didn't see an end to this, but now it looks like it's finally over."

Gladys Miranda of New York, whose husband, Eladeo, was among the inmates on the hospital annex roof, said: "I'm glad they did this (take over the prison). If this hadn't happened, they would have sent them all back to Cuba. I'm really proud of all of them, especially my husband."

Earlier in the evening, about 200 people filled a small nearby church for a prayer service and then marched to the prison, carrying candles and singing "We Shall Overcome."

"We thank you, Lord, we thank you," said Betty Williams, the wife of a hostage. "And for all of the detainees, Lord, we ask your blessing upon them, oh Lord, because we do not want to pray selfishly."

Steven Donziger, a spokesman for the suburban Atlanta-based Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, said the uprising did more to improve the lot of the inmates than the seven years of litigation since their plight began.

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